As a child, I would have loved to go to a unique summer day camp like Dog Savvy Kids.
My four siblings and I never went to summer camp as kids because my family could not afford it, but if I could have gone, I would have loved to go to a unique summer day camp like Dog Savvy Kids Summer Camp in West Mt. Airy, near Weavers Way Co-op, because the kids, ages 8 and up, get to play with dogs for several hours every day. What could be more fun than that?
This new camp — this is its first year of operation — is the brainchild of Lisa Cruz, a five-year resident of West Mt. Airy (East Falls for 14 years before that) who has 23 years of experience as a dog trainer, although she prefers the term “canine coach.” She is also a veterinary hospital technician and conservation biologist who rescues birds and helps to rehabilitate wildlife. She considers herself a professional dog lover.
Although this is Cruz' first time offering the summer camp and several “Teens Walking Dogs Workshops,” she has extensive experience running “puppy socials,” loose leash walking and group classes for families.
“I'm not even sure where the idea came from for the summer camp,” Cruz said last week. “I just know there are dog-loving kids out there who don't have a dog of their own or who have dogs but need to learn how to handle them.”
There’s also the fact that there aren’t a lot of jobs open for children under the age of 16.
“Even shelters say the kids have to be at least 16 to volunteer. Both dogs and people need to be educated,” Cruz continued. “Here there will be a mix of learning time without dogs and then practicing and observing what we've learned while interacting with 'Brighten Up Pup'-approved dogs. There will be free time for outdoor play and opportunities for the children to explore and learn about nature and how dogs perceive the world differently than we do.”
A native of Lower Bucks County, Cruz was one of nine children who all shared one dog, Brittany. They taught her to jump over obstacles on cue, track treats they trailed along the ground and hid strategically and even made their own harness so she could pull them on their sled in the snow. Cruz intuitively understood at an early age that dogs need jobs. They need mental stimulation, physical exercise and humans who honor that.
Knowing that she loved nature, being outdoors and getting her hands on critters, Cruz chose a career in wildlife biology, graduating from West Chester University in 2001 with a degree in biology/bcology. Her early professional life consisted of more than 10 years of experience as an environmental consultant and conservation biologist.
When her first child was born, Cruz took a hiatus from full-time employment to stay home. Once both her children were enrolled in elementary school, she began pursuing her long-time interest in animal behavior. Having been intrigued by dogs all her life, she devoted herself to learning the art of canine communication and has applied that knowledge while dog walking, pet sitting and supporting individuals and families who are raising puppies or welcoming rescue dogs into their homes.
In January 2020, Lisa created Brighten Up Pup, LLC. As Lisa strives to provide quality support for her families, she continues to sharpen her canine coaching skills, cultivate professional relationships with other dog pros and expand her knowledge through mentors, dog behavior courses, hands-on training, webinars and other professional avenues.
Lisa is an approved professional for Kids Around Dogs, a licensed trainer for The Family Dog Private Training Program, and a licensed presenter of The Family Dog’s Stop the 77 dog safety program.
Where do the dogs that kids walk come from? “One of the dogs is my own dog,” said Cruz, “Kea, a 4-year-old Goldendoodle, a certified AKC Canine Good Citizen who is taking therapy dog classes. The other dogs I have worked with and shared my home with while their families are away. I know them well, and they behave safely around children.”
The summer camp will take place from June 12 to 16 and Aug. 28 to Sept. 1. In Cruz' “Teens Walking Dogs” workshops in June and July (separate from the summer camp) teenagers learn about dog body language, safety, dog walking etiquette, loose leash training, teamwork and how to get a dog’s attention even in the presence of distractions.
“They will gain confidence,” Cruz said, “and develop leadership and dog training skills while learning how to be responsible, compassionate caregivers and members of the community.”
Cruz offers seasonal and year-round programs and gives private training sessions year-round. For more information, visit BrightenUpPup.com. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com.